The office is dark when he arrives; the air is thick with the smell of blood and cigarette smoke. The cigarette in question is perched on the ash tray where it has been slowly burning down to the filter, a long trail of ash resting against the bottom of the glass. Bright eyes flick up from where they’ve been watching it burn and a finger reaches out, pressing against the lipstick-smeared end of the shrunken butt. A wide mouth curves into a welcoming smirk as he pulls his hand back and he slouches lower in his chair to prop his shoes up on the desk.

      There’s a dead body between them, sprawled out on the polished floor between the desk and the door. The blood is already congealing in a wide puddle beneath it, sickly sweet and thick. Eyes are wide, frozen in a horrified expression, and a painted mouth is still open in a scream that was never voiced. Beneath it is a larger gap where a curved knife carved a line through her throat. The knife is embedded in the desk for now, rammed into the previously flawless rosewood. He hasn’t bothered to clean it yet.

      The new arrival leans against the doorframe, surveying the scene with a careless gaze. His partner waits until those eyes turn on him before he pushes himself to his feet. A hand wraps around the sticky hilt of his knife and he wrenches it free in one hard jerk. It’s bad for the blade and he’s been told it a thousand times, but he’ll let the words roll off him tonight the same way he has every other time in the past. He walks around the blood only because he knows better than to leave footprints and draws even to his companion, resting against the opposite side of the doorframe. It’s a narrow door; they’re almost touching with the way they’re standing.

      There’s the hint of a return smirk on the other’s face at last, and a hand reaches out between them. It doesn’t matter which one moves first; it never has and never will. Fingers knot in the collar of a shirt and for a few moments the scent of cologne drowns out the scent of death. Just for a few moments, and then they blend together into something sharper, something perfect.

      It’s a hard kiss, hard enough to bruise. It tastes good. It always does.

      It’s been a perfect, flawless night, and it’ll be ruined irretrievably before either goes to sleep in a handful of hours.

      It’s hard to hold onto one’s appreciation for a night when he’s told that he has a ninety percent chance of dying the next day, after all.

Event Horizon: Boundary marking the limits of a black hole. At the event horizon, the escape velocity is equal to the speed of light. Since general relativity states that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, nothing inside the event horizon can ever cross the boundary and escape beyond it, including light. Thus, nothing that enters a black hole can get out.

1: The Storm

      It’s raining when we reach the bottom floor, but I don’t remember hearing it start. We stop just inside the front doors, ignoring the way the sensor has them sliding open the moment our shoes touch the rug in the entry way. An icy breeze sweeps through and I stuff my hands in the pockets of my jacket, slanting a look up at my companion. “Some prescient,” I drawl. “I don’t suppose you thought to bring an umbrella.”

      Crawford shrugs, considering the sky as lightning rips through the gray clouds. “The weather channel said it was going to be clear skies until the weekend,” he says by way of an explanation, and I give a snort of derision for the oversight. The sound is ignored.

      The doors start to close again, but the sensor blinks above us and they only make it a few inches before they realize we’re still standing here. They open again with a soft hiss that’s swallowed up in the sounds of the storm. The thunder is almost too loud, and another bolt of lightning follows before the echoes have faded away. I give a low whistle, reaching out with a shoe to let raindrops splatter off of it. “At least do us a favor and figure out when it ends,” I say.

      “Patience,” is all he has to say. It’s such a predictable answer from a precognitive.

      “Patience, patience,” I mock him, drawing my shoe back. The storm is so strong that it’s hard to make out our car through the rain, even with just thirty feet between us. Lightning sizzles again and thunder follows right in its wake, hard enough that I hear the glass doors rattle. I lean forward slightly, searching the sky for an edge to the storm. With a sigh I straighten and hold out my hand to Crawford. “Fine,” I tell him, sounding much aggrieved just for his benefit. “But I’m driving.”

      “I’d almost prefer to wait the rain out,” is his dry response, but he holds out the keys anyway.

      I squish the urge to roll my eyes, turning the key ring in my fingers so I can aim the electronic remote at our car. Two presses of the button and the headlights flash at us to let me know the doors are unlocked, and I flicker out of the doorway and over to our car. It’s a handy little gift but I still get wet; I can get myself over to the car in the blink of an eye but I can’t have the door open and waiting on me when I get there. My hand almost slides off of the handle on the door and I pull it open, sliding into the driver’s seat. I reach out to yank the door closed and eye my dripping sleeve with a small scowl on my face.

      I could take my time but experience tells me that I won’t succeed at trying Crawford’s patience, and if there’s not that to get out of it, then there’s no point. I twist the key in the ignition and press the button for the heater, adjusting the vents with a quick flick of my fingers. The seat has to be popped forward a notch; Crawford’s legs are longer than mine and he drove us here tonight for our run. The seat belt is ignored; I’ve almost forgotten its existence completely. I don’t bother to look back for other cars, trusting the other cars in the lot to be empty at this hour and in such weather, and back out of the spot we pulled into just an hour before.

      I get Crawford’s door for him as I pull up to the curb and prop myself against the window as he takes his seat. The car sinks slightly as he climbs in and he’s wet even from just the few feet to the car. His hair is sticking to his face and little rivers of water trickle over his cheeks to drip off his chin. They’re lost somewhere in the damp patch on his shoulders, hiding among the material that has grown darker from being wet. The rain is almost too loud on the hood of the car and I consider the way the windshield wipers can’t keep up with the water streaming down the glass. I’ve never liked driving in the rain. I have an easier time than most because I can place other drivers by their thoughts and keep an eye on them that way, but I can’t exactly use my telepathy on a slick, invisible road. I consider switching with Crawford for a moment before deciding it’s not worth the trouble of trading seats and instead pull away from the curb when Crawford’s ready.

      I loosen my shields with just a thought, expanding my intelligible radius out to something better for navigating the road, and Crawford sits silently beside me. Silence is our second most common method of communication and we’ve developed our own language with it; it can vary from hostile to comfortable to horny and every nuance in between. I find it amusing that we’ve learned to speak through silence so easily when I’ve been trained to use telepathy; it’s funny that he’s managed to claim the silent spot in the middle of an endless, maelstrom of noise and voices. Years ago I resented him for it.

      The flavor of the silence we sit in today is more courteous than anything else; I don’t need to be distracted from the road when I can’t see it through the rain. There’s a dark blur in front of me with no visible distinctions to mark where the lanes are separated and where the road gives way to a sidewalk and lamp posts. I expected the roads to be empty but not this empty; Tokyo is a city that no sort of weather can stop. With a small frown I loosen my shields another notch, but there are still no clean signals to pick up. It makes the growling hum seem even louder, and the pounding of the rain on the car is deafening.

      “Clear skies, hm?” I ask Crawford, wanting any sort of sound to drown out that relentless rattling.

      “This is Japan,” he reminds me, and that would be an acceptable excuse if it was actually rainy season.

      I open my mouth, ready to offer a smart response to that, when everything goes white. Crawford’s hand claps down on top of mine just in time to keep me from jerking at the wheel; I yank my foot back from the gas petal, swearing viciously as I twist my face away from the sharp explosion of white in front of us. It last just a heartbeat, a searing flash and a deadly sizzle, and the thunder is so harsh and so loud that I almost expect the force of it to crush my ribs.

      It’s there and gone again and I have to blink several times to try and clear my vision in the wake of such a bright light. Crawford’s hand tightens around mine and he pulls hard at the wheel. It’s a dizzying lurch when I can’t see anything around us and I lift one hand from the wheel to grab at his wrist, fingers digging in in a sharp protest. “Crawford,” I start, but he interrupts me.

      “Brakes,” is the flat command, and when Crawford talks like that, it’s best to just do what he says immediately and argue later.

      I find the pedal with my foot and press down, letting Crawford steer as everything fades back into view around me. I see the pale flesh of his hand and that’s how I know I can see again; outside it is still dark and wet. The car comes to a stop and I sit back heavily against my chair as Crawford draws his hand back, and I stare up at the sky as lightning skitters between clouds. “Christ, can you believe that just happened?” I ask, finding it highly entertaining in the aftermath.

      Crawford says nothing and I look over at him. He’s peering out his window and I wonder what he’s staring at. I check with my gift but whatever he’s looking at isn’t human; I can’t find a live mind anywhere around us. “What’s so fascinating?” I want to know. He can’t be looking at the spot where the lightning hit the road. He’s looking in the wrong direction.

      “Get out of the car,” he says, and I give him a sidelong look.

      “Are you shitting me?” I ask. “The entire Pacific Ocean is pouring down on us and you want me to get out of the car?”

      Crawford doesn’t answer but pops open his own door, and I can just stare as he steps out into the storm. The wind whips into the car greedily, bringing rain with it, and Crawford shuts the door behind him. I can only see him as a pale blur against the wet glass, but the blur shifts and starts to grow smaller and I realize he’s moving away. With a curse I open my own door and slide out into the road. There’s standing water in the street; the lights turned on in the car when my door opened and I can see it reflecting off the current that’s swirling around my shoes. After a moment I lean back inside of the car, pressing the button that will keep the lights on, and shut the door.

      The rain is falling hard enough to hurt, biting into me like icy needles, and it only takes a moment before I’m chilled to the bone. Squinting through the torrent at the small patch of cream business suit that’s all I can see of Crawford, I offer a few hateful thoughts to the sky and start wading in that direction.

      I call out to him but I don’t know if he can hear me; I can’t hear my own voice over the rain. Instead I reach out for his mind, but before I can say anything, lightning strikes the road further down. For a second it lights up the street, flaring blue-white light all around us. I come to a halt, staring in surprise down the length of the road. The road ahead of us is full of cars, but they are all stopped and dark. My gift can find no minds in them to tell me that they’re there, but how can there be so many of them? Lightning streaks by overhead and I look towards Crawford, spotting the reason for his reckless steering: there’s a parked car a short distance back that we almost hit. With the storm to blind us and no one present to trigger my telepathy, we would have crashed into it.

      /What the hell is this, an abandoned car lot?/ I demand.

      ~This…~ Crawford says, sloshing towards the nearest car, ~…is a very bad thing.~

      There’s nothing else to do but follow after him, and he pries open the door. The light flicks on and I stare as I realize that the car’s not empty. There are four people inside, a young family. They’re sitting in their seats, eyes wide and mouths slack. The car smells funny, but it’s not a smell I can place. I look from them to Crawford, reaching up to wipe my bangs out of my face. It’s hard when my face and fingers are numb from the cold. Crawford’s face is calm as he considers the family and then he shuts the door, letting the darkness swallow us again. I slosh away from him, heading up the street towards the next car. I have to move with my arms outstretched in front of me to make sure I don’t collide with one, and then a distant bolt of lightning gives me the few moments I need to place it.

      It’s a struggle to find a door handle in the dark and the door’s locked. I shatter the window with a blow from my elbow and unlock it from the inside before opening the door just enough to trigger the light. One man sits inside, slouched against his seatbelt.

      Crawford reaches me as I’m trying a third car, and I shoot him a quick look at the sight of the three dead girls. /They’re dead,/ I tell him, as if he hasn’t picked up on this by now. /It’s a street full of dead people in cars. What happened here?/

      ~I don’t know yet,~ is his answer, ~but we’re not going to be able to drive through this.~

      /Well, dying of pneumonia has never appealed to me, so I’m going to get the hell out of this storm,/ I send back, using a hand on the car to find my way to the curb. I hit it with my foot but my feet are too cold to register that it’s supposed to hurt, and Crawford follows me up onto the sidewalk. I lift my hand to my face, pressing the button on my watch to light up the screen, but I can’t read the numbers. /Shouldn’t the subway still be running?/

      ~It should be,~ he agrees, and he starts off down the sidewalk. I follow behind him, content to follow in his footsteps so I don’t run into stray lamp posts and post office boxes. He seems to know where he’s going and that’s good enough for me; I was too busy staring at the cars to notice what section of the city we’re in now. It takes a bit to get to the subway entrance and I’ve just about decided that I’m never going to be warm again when I spot the light further down the sidewalk. It’s three steps up into the entrance and we stop there at the top of the stairs leading down to the wickets to stare out at the rain falling in sheets just a foot away. It’s almost colder here than it was out there; the wind against our wet bodies seems worse here than it did when we were getting poured on.

      Crawford is the first to move and I follow him down the steps, watching where I put my feet since it’s hard to feel them. “I am blaming you for all of this,” I inform him. “I’d just like you to know that.”

      “As you wish,” is his easy answer.

      We’re the only ones in the station and it takes some work to get our wallets out of our pockets for our subway cards. There’s no one else waiting on the platform and the schedule hanging on the wall says that the next train should be by in just a few minutes. My teeth are starting to chatter and I don’t bother to try and stop them; I’m content to prop myself against the wall and shiver until our train shows up. Crawford seems to be just as bad off; his arms are folded across his chest as if to protect any scrap of warmth he has left and his hand is shaking where it’s resting against a bicep.

      The speaker announces that the train is on its way just seconds before we hear the horn, and we watch as the red cars race by, a solid blur of color that is slow in stopping. We’ve missed the evening rush hour but the trains are still decently packed, and we attract stares from everyone else in our car as we climb on. There are a few seats open but I choose not to sit. If it had been a simple rainstorm, I’d sit so I would get the seat wet and ruin it for the next passengers, but I’m so cold that I’m not sure I would be able to stand up again when we reach our stop. Instead I prop myself against the doors and Crawford stands off to my side, idly holding onto the nearest pole. The speakers cheerfully announce our next destination and the train pulls away.

      We’ve been in Tokyo for years now and the stares have never lessened in their intensity in that time, but the stares tonight are the most obvious we’ve ever received. Crawford gets curious looks because he is American, but it’s my long orange hair that draws the most attention when we go places together. Today the combination of our strange looks and the fact that we look like drowned rats seems to be too much for their little minds to handle, as they don’t even try to be discrete in their gaping. I reach out and pull my shields in tighter around me to shut most of the train out, but the tightest I can bring my shields still leaves this car and the next a persistent, nagging jumble in the background of my thoughts.

      At the third stop an old woman climbs on with a young boy following in her wake, and she stares at us for a long moment before hobbling towards an empty spot. A cane is set off to one side and she digs around in her shopping bags until she finds a hand towel. She holds it out to the child next to her, asking him to bring it to us, and he slides off of the bench and heads our way. I glance towards Crawford as the brat comes to a halt in front of me. “This is for you,” he says, and Crawford reaches out to take the offering.

      He inclines his head to the child before looking past me at the old woman, his perfect, false manners still hard at work even when we’re half frozen. “Thank you,” he says, bowing to her, and she bows back from her seat. The boy remains where he is, toying with the string of a balloon. It’s been tied around his wrist to keep it from getting away from him but the string is loose enough for him to mess with, and he looks from me to Crawford and back to me. The old woman, his grandmother, calls out to him to return to his seat. The boy doesn’t pay her any mind and instead points up at me. He knows there’s something very weird about me without knowing what it is; his mind can’t yet grasp the concept of what is Japanese and what’s not, so it makes no sense to him that I look so different. “Orange,” he says at last, because it’s all he can figure out to say.

      I lift my gaze to consider the balloon floating just a short span away from my face. It’s a bright, glaring yellow, with a smiley face painted on it, and it’s bobbing gently back and forth. “Orange,” the boy says again, almost insistently.

      The speaker is announcing that the train is coming up on the next station, our stop. I reach out with both hands, cupping them around the balloon, and squeeze my hands together as hard as I can. There’s a resounding pop when the balloon bursts and the boy just stares as what’s left of it plummets down to the floor by his feet. The whispers around the car die out immediately. “Yellow,” I say.

      He gives a half-hearted tug at his string, watching the yellow material slide across the floor, and then looks back up at me with wide eyes. I offer him a slow smirk in response and then the train is stopping. I turn to face the door just as it stops and Crawford follows me out onto the platform. There are a few others getting off here but none from our car, and we are the closest to the escalators. Crawford is still carrying the towel and he turns it over to me as we are carried upwards towards the next floor. I rub at my face and hands and take some measure of comfort in the fact that I can feel it, regardless of the fact that it hurts.

      We punch our cards through the wicket and head down the hall towards our exit. It’s three flights up to street level and I offer Crawford the towel back as we make our way up. “Just when I was starting to think I could thaw,” I say, not looking forward to going back out into the rain. Even the thought of taking a hot shower to warm up seems disgusting. I’m sick of being wet. “I’m going to call ahead to Nagi and make sure he has the coffee going.”

      It seems strange to be able to say that. The last few years have been busy for Schwarz, ever since Rosenkreuz recommended us to Estet to guard their interests here in Japan. Rosenkreuz didn’t trust the power Estet was after and wanted us to keep an eye on them, and we pulled through by sending Estet’s dreams crashing to the ground. Our defeat of them on Japanese soil didn’t mean a complete defeat, however, and Schwarz headed to Europe to cause more trouble. Nagi and Farfarello decided to stay on with Rosenkreuz for a while longer to work on their powers, as they had never gone through Rosenkreuz’s training, and Crawford and I returned to Japan to see what we could make of it. With a second confrontation with Estet’s minions and their psychotic S and Z-Class minions just a few months behind us, Farfarello and Nagi are finally back in the country and with Schwarz.

      Crawford nods to show me he’s heard and I reach out across the city for Nagi’s mind, giving him a heads up that we’re almost there. He accepts this and the order to start the coffee without much argument. Nagi was never the life of the party before but Rosenkreuz has changed him. He’s a lot quieter now, a lot more reserved, and there’s something a little dead in his blue eyes that hadn’t been there before. I wasn’t surprised by the changes; neither Crawford nor I were. Rosenkreuz has a knack of doing that to people, and even Nagi’s time with us wasn’t enough to prepare him completely for what the school had to show him. He had to attend the school without the others knowing he was Schwarz. Not everyone at Rosenkreuz knows we were ordered to bring Estet down, and we’ve made ourselves a list of enemies there.

      We reach the sidewalk just a few moments later and I come to a dead halt at Crawford’s side to stare. The ground is dry here, and the sky is clear. I can’t even hear the rumble of distant thunder. The road is busy with cars and there are clumps of laughing and chatting people all around us. I look towards Crawford and he glances my way, shaking his head in response to my arched eyebrow.

      “I know I wasn’t just imagining that,” I say, giving a shake of my arms and watching water splatter against the ground at our feet. “I’m not into group hallucinations unless I’m the one orchestrating things.”

      “No,” Crawford says, considering the sky. “There’s something wrong here.” That’s a No-shit statement if I ever heard one, but I just barely manage to refrain from commenting. “It’s coming,” Crawford warns me. “We need to go.”

      “Nice of you to see it coming this time,” I mutter, following him out onto the sidewalk. His pace is brisk and I lengthen my stride to keep up. Our apartment is just a short distance away from the subway entrance, chosen for its convenience, and we are almost to the door when the storm catches up. It comes out of nowhere; there’s nothing to warn us save for Crawford’s words just a minute ago. One moment it’s dry out, and the next it’s pouring rain. There are shrieks and screams further down the street as lightning flares up harsh and bright, and Crawford and I take the last twenty feet to our building in a run. We take refuge in the lobby, dripping wet yet again, and stare out at a world that has gone suddenly dark.

      Thunder rumbles in the distance and I fold my arms tightly across my chest. “I’ll take an explanation at any time,” I inform Crawford, flicking blue eyes his way. He’s frowning at the door but his gaze isn’t focused on the storm; rather, his attention is pointed inward as he pulls at a gift to give him more than what it wants to show. I give him just a minute before deciding that it’s way too cold down here and I flick my fingers at him in a beckon. “On second thought, I’ll take an explanation upstairs. I want my coffee.”

      “Weiß,” Crawford says, and I pause where I’ve started to turn away. He looks my way but he’s looking through me at things I will never see. I just frown at him, not understanding, and a grimace pulls at his expression. “Something has happened to Weiß.”

Part 2
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